The level of workers categorised as self-employed has reached its highest level in Britain for over 40 years according to the Office for National Statistics – 15 per cent of the workforce, 4.6 million people, are now deemed self-employed, up from 13 per cent at the time of the 2008 financial crash. Most of these jobs are likely to be “off the books” – construction work, taxi drivers, hairdressers and the beauty industry. “Self-employment” is of course nothing of the kind, a contradiction in terms. In practice it means having many employers, rather than one.
The Institute of Public Policy Research has found that self-employment has risen again in the past year, notching up the biggest rise in western Europe. One in seven of the workforce are now classified as self-employed. For many workers such an occupation is not one of choice but of desperation, the result of the slashing of unemployment benefit and other support. Work, if it can be defined as such, comes very cheap, with workers having no choice – take it or starve. The TUC estimates the average earnings of these “self-employed” to be half of those directly employed or in a union-organised workplace.
TUC research has also found that self-employment has comprised almost half of the new jobs created in the last four years and that 40 per cent of them are part time. The government boasts about reducing the numbers of the unemployed and of generating an entrepreneur culture, when the reality is one of low wages, low skills, massive job uncertainty, long hours. ■